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5 Million Trees, 5 Million Voices: A Tale of Two Trees at Coppin State University

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Maryland’s 5 Million Trees Program is a historic state directive to plant 5 million native trees on public and private land by 2031. The 5 Million Trees, 5 Million Voices series will highlight some of the planting opportunities in which Maryland Forest Service engages as the state pursues 5 Million Trees goals.

A Maryland Forest Service employee, a university maintenance manager, and a sorority alumna meet in a parking lot. No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke! It was the start of Coppin State University’s 2022 Arbor Day planting event. As the Maryland Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forester for the Central Region, an important facet of my job is organizing tree plantings like this one at a public Historically Black University in Baltimore.

The Maryland Forest Service’s Fiscal Officer, Shenika Dyson, was our connection to Coppin State’s tree planting needs. An alumna of both Coppin State and the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Shenika made some calls to sorority sisters and gathered volunteers for an Arbor Day planting at the university’s sorority and fraternity courtyard.

Photo of women wearing purple and yellow gathered around a tree planting siteSororities and fraternities are important social organizations for Coppin State students and alumni. The sorority and fraternity courtyard represents each organization with a tree, grill, and bench. One fraternity lost a tree a few years ago, so on their spring work day in 2022 they asked maintenance for a new one.

It was fun to see so many people gathered around new tree plantings and appreciating nature. As we planted the replacement tree, a sorority alumna mentioned that Sigma Gamma Rho’s plot needed a tree. “We can fix that!” I responded.

And so a few months later in fall 2022, I returned to the Coppin State courtyard with Sigma Gamma Rho alumni. We planted a lovely eastern redbud tree, which the university will enjoy for decades to come. The sorority sisters were happy to learn that the tree will grow beautiful heart-shaped leaves, symbolic of the sorority members’ relationships.

“It’s so nice to see events on campus again,” said Dr. Pamela Richardson Wilks, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Coppin State. “It was an awesome experience, and we are thankful for the opportunity to partner with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service and the ladies of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc.”

As I left campus that day I took a moment to re-mulch the tree we planted in the spring and enjoy the sight of the lovely ladies in bright yellow and blue making plans next to their new tree.

Anne Gilbert is the Maryland Forest Service’s Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator for the Central Region. Article appears in Vol. 26, No. 2 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine.